War Diaries, March 14, 2022

Carl Jung said we all walk in shoes too small.

I don’t think this applies to Olesia, however.  She was up early with her hair beautifully braided, in an outfit that could have easily been an advertisement for Gap Kids, her teddy bear backpack hung evenly over each shoulder; she was ready to go to school.

Her mother, a friend, me and the dogs accompanied her as she marched up the steps, shoulders squared, into the school office where she waited to be registered.  Once the formalities were complete, she marched up another set of stairs into the classroom.

I have mentioned Olesia before.  She is our chess champion.  She’s the one that never averts your stare.  I believe she enjoys looking at people.  I suspect she studies us.  This precious child was lovingly carried through a war zone by an attentive family who treasures her.  This is her center-point.  This is the place that informs her, the place from where she situates herself in the world.

Paul drove the teenagers into town, where the head mistress of the local high school welcomed them.  They returned today full of excitement and hope.  They will be studying Polish, astronomy, history of Ukraine, general history (Poles like history) and mathematics — overall, preparatory classes for their Matura, much like the exams American students take before entering university.  Two are ballet dancers.  One is a budding young filmmaker.

Ukrainians are keen on school.  Not even war stops them in their path to an education.  I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like it.  It’s natural to them; it has an easiness about it, and you don’t feel a tremendous pressure applied from anyone — they just genuinely like school.  They like to learn.

Henry and Yulia are here from London.  Henry is the son of Paul’s first cousin Magdalena.  His wife, Yulia, is Ukrainian.  They have been with us for a week on a mission to evacuate four of their family members: Yulia’s grandmother, her auntie, and her two cousins.

Each of the four has a chilling story.  Each escaped the shelling in Kyiv.  First, the cousins made their way to the border, walking twenty kilometers with what they could carry, wading through water near waist-deep, observing the dead on the side of the road.  (In another entry I will tell you about the ‘transportation’ company that nearly absconded with their money—what little they have—and possibly might have put them in even danger—but later).  The world has asked of them to witness too much.  Thankfully, Henry and Yulia were waiting at the border and brought them to safety.  It looked like they would be leaving mother and grandmother behind for an unknown period of time, but when the block of flats was destroyed, the one just next door to them, the neighbour suggested they get out.  For the same twenty kilometers, he pushed the wheelchair over endless stretches of rubble, with Yulia’s eighty-seven-year-old grandmother holding on tight.

Before they made this journey, they would hide in the basement of the building when the nighttime bombing began.  One night, her cousin drew a picture of what he would consider the perfect day.  A football pitch, the sun shining, his mates all playing what Americans call soccer.  His mother looked down at this paper and said to herself, we may die here tonight.  You might never play football again.

But for this family, there is a different ending.  They did not die.  Mom sat at the table with Yulia last night and expressed her thoughts that now she considered anything possible—all is manageable now that they are safe.

Henry and Yulia are not your typical pair.  They have pulled four family members from the jaws of death.  They have been the family’s ambassadors to peace and safety.  No stone has been left unturned.  They will continue to work from London, first sorting paperwork for the cousins to join them, and then, in time, mother and grandmother, who will stay with us at Sichów until then.

The doctor will make a house call tomorrow to make sure all are well.  Did I tell you that the cousins were adopted by Yulia’s auntie?  They had lost their parents to war in 2014, in Donetsk.

I will drive Mariia to eye doctor for an examination and new glasses tomorrow.  Today, I took her grandfather who literally came with the clothes on his back for a new pair of jeans, a jacket and a pair of tennis shoes.  He was most pleased.  In fact, we had an impromptu fashion show.  He said he felt young again.

We have two blind people and three of their family members arriving tomorrow.  They will stay at the Dwór.

We bought Marina’s ticket today.  She leaves tomorrow.  I will miss her and insisted she contact me if anything untoward were to happen.  She promised.

I would like to talk about enchantment and mythology.  Perhaps tomorrow when I hope to be feeling better.  I’m warding off a cold.

One thought I can pass along today: these Ukrainians have also impacted my life forever.  Fear is not a word I will use recklessly ever again.  I will think long and hard before I dare resort to such extravagance.

Let me end with Mary Oliver.  When Death Comes.  Inspiration for a life well lived.

…When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real. I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”